Sarah Josepha Hale


Note 1. Not the clock of the lofty tower. Park Street Church. The tower of this church is the loftiest in the city of Boston.The localities alluded to in the Poem are all easily traced from this point, where the Cottage then stood on the present site of Park Street Church.

Note 2. She was the last Lord Talbot's heir. Many, indeed most of the Pilgrim Fathers were from families of high respectability in their own country; and there were some from among the best nobility of England. Such was Lady Arabella Johnson, daughter of the proud Earl of Lincoln. Mr. Johnson and his wife, the Lady Arabella, were among the early emigrants to Massachusetts. She died and was buried at Salem, then the capital of the Colony; but he lived several years after, and was one of the leaders and most efficient pioneers in the settlement of the city of Boston. He, too, belonged to a rich and ancient family, and was connected with others of high rank.

Note 3. The "hammered stars" have never shed/Their glory o'er a victim's head.It should be a matter of grateful thanks as well as of proud triumph to every American, that the Government of the United States, and also the separate Governments of all the States, have been organized and carried into effect without the shedding of a drop of blood,--without a single instance of violence. These Governments have been sustained, and the Laws everywhere upheld by the People without any armed force; and there has never been a proved traitor, or an execution for political offences. Contrast this picture with that of the best Government in the Old World-with Great Britain. How many "traitors"have there been discovered! The noblest blood of England has been poured out on the scaffold! What dreadful tortures, what awful punishments have been inflicted on political offenders! And now a large armed force is there required to keep the people in subjection to the Laws. Well may Americans thank God for their good Government and their favoured lot.

Note 4. She had but one beside. The peculiar difficulties and sufferings of the early Colonists cannot now be realized. It was not the lack of means but of merchandise. There was money, but no market-nearer than London; and the Atlantic could not then be crossed in ten days; it sometimes took as many months. We were told by an old lady of Boston, a lineal descendant of one of the early Governors, that her grandmother told her often she had but one pound of candles during six months. "And,"said the wise lady of the Governor, "I was never out of candles during the whole time." Such was the true Yankee spirit--always remembering there will come a tomorrow.


COMMENT by Janet Gray

Hale's fable memorializes (that is, creates an imaginary history while eliminating much actual history) the subjectivity of an American foremother. Central here is Grace Talbot's being in the grip of premodern superstitions, taught to her as a child, while resolving to raise her own child to be free of such violent terrors; part of Hale's fable is this founding moment of a modern, American children's literature, training future citizens to internalize gentleness rather than fear. Despite this commitment to a specifically Protestant modernity, Hale dwells on the continuity between the old feudal system and the new society, emphasizing Grace Talbot's aristocratic origins; she criticizes the male aristocracy while at the same time presenting high origins as a feature of her heroine's intrinsic worthiness.

Hale's insistence that the United States government was founded without bloodshed seems obviously inaccurate-she narrowed the field to political conflict within the jurisdiction of the government, mentioning nothing about slavery and depicting Native Americans only as a threat. (Hale's version of the first Thanksgiving in her novel Northwood does not include Native Americans; the pilgrims were able to feast because of the fortuitous arrival of a ship from England.) This insistence stands out not merely from today's view, but in the context of her time, when other women (and men) were turning patriotic rhetoric on its head to criticize slavery and white conduct in relation to Native peoples. Hale's myth of the republic appears to depend on the erasure of violence from its history.

Hale's last note, accounting for Yankee thriftiness with resources, is intriguing, given her immersion in commercial print culture. She says in effect that the Pilgrims had plenty of money but no place to shop; it does not occur in the world she describes that a Pilgrim could make her own candles. Again, she aligns the founding fathers and mothers with upper-class practices and identities.

Note also the paean to print in "First Hour"; the transition Grace Talbot undergoes from reading to reverie to remembering her aristocratic origins suggests a link between the internal consciousness associated with reading and the recovery of aristocratic identity.

-Janet Gray